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OUR OPINION Prevent neglect at nursing homes

The Daily Commercial - 1/8/2018

A closed-circuit video showing an elderly nursing home resident being beaten is difficult to watch.

The attack happened at the troubled Good Samaritan Retirement Home in Williston, about an hour and a half northwest of Leesburg. In a secure unit with no staff members present, a 52-year-old resident whose health issues include a traumatic brain injury can be seen attacking an 86-year-old resident.

The younger man hit the older man more than 50 times over a two-minute period, causing him to be hospitalized, according to reports. Yet the incident wasn't what led to Good Samaritan being closed by the state Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA).

About a month after the attack, Betty Hurst, 72, fell and hit her head while unattended outside Good Samaritan. Police found that staff didn't administer any first-aid care, only calling 911 after she was found unresponsive about six hours later.

Hurst died the next afternoon, leading to an elderly neglect charge against Good Samaritan administrator Nenita Alfonso Sudeal, 48. Another nursing home administrator, Rhaimley Yap Romero, 31, was also charged with elderly neglect in a separate incident.

The arrests shouldn't have been a surprise to AHCA. CNN reported that the agency fined Good Samaritan more than any other assisted living facility in Florida over the past five years. This time, with the incidents leading to additional problems being uncovered, the agency finally closed the facility and relocated its residents. It is outrageous that it took so long.

Good Samaritan is just one example of the need for Florida to do a much better job looking out for its elderly residents. In September after Hurricane Irma knocked out power at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in Broward County, heat inside the nursing home reportedly rose to 99 degrees and a dozen residents died.

Gov. Rick Scott subsequently pushed for all nursing homes to have emergency generators. The action was in contrast to Scott's previous approval of legislation that reduced safety protections for nursing home patients and gave the industry greater immunity from lawsuits, as the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee bureau reported.

In addition to bills requiring backup power, other state legislation introduced this session would allow regular unannounced inspections or even undercover operations inside nursing homes. But the bills and others with similar safeguards against neglect have lacked hearings with the start of the session looming next week.

While additional inspections might better catch problems at nursing homes before they lead to tragedies, AHCA shouldn't hesitate to close facilities with serious problems. State Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat who sponsored one of the nursing home bills, noted to CNN that it took seven weeks after Hurst hit her head and died before the agency shut the facility.

"Why are residents being left in these facilities that clearly aren't safe?" she asked.

It is a question that state officials need to take seriously before another death occurs. More must be done to monitor nursing homes and prevent neglect year round - and not just after deaths at these facilities make the news.

 
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